During the 2016 presidential campaign, faced with a corrupt proto-fascist, and not sure what it really stood for, the Democratic Party ran on a simplistic, fearful platform — “anybody but Trump.” Few remember now what else Hillary Clinton campaigned on — much less actually believed in, because her views on everything from abortion, gay rights, criminal justice, immigration, and trade had all “evolved” and it was difficult to untangle Clinton the Candidate from Clinton the Goldman-Sachs speaker — or Clinton the peddler of influence from her $2 billion family foundation.
After her stunning loss the corporate media began pushing the message that Democrats had been too focused on “identity politics” — that concern for gays, women, minorities, and immigrants had robbed the party of its rightful win.
Then, as now, Republicans whined about identity politics (knowing full-well that white privilege itself is the most toxic example), called Democratic safety-net programs “socialist,” railed against “political correctness” and lied about the basic science behind human gestation and environmental warming. And Democrats took the bait, wishing they had appealed more to the mythological unicorn — the fabled white swing voter.
Now, as the 2020 presidential campaign begins, faced with the same corrupt, and now much more dangerous proto-fascist — and still unsure of what they really stand for — Democrats have again trotted out the same simplistic platform — “anybody but Trump.” And this time around, it looks like it will be up to a white candidate to appeal to the white swing voter.
At least fifteen of the twenty Democratic contenders will never survive the primaries. As of May 13th, the leaders were Biden (39.8%), Sanders (16.3%), Warren (8.3%), Harris (7.7%), and Buttigieg (6.8%). Not one candidate of color is running in double digits. Two Democratic candidates (Sanders and Warren) are progressives — idea people who want to fix a long list of economic, social, and criminal justice wrongs. They and Tulsi Gabbard are also the only candidates to question American militarism. But this year the Democratic Party is not interested in grand ideas — not even those diametrically opposed to the President’s. “Anyone but Trump” is their only idea. Sadly, Sanders and Warren’s campaigns are dead out of the gate.
Instead, the Democratic Party leadership sees Biden and Buttigieg as the best shot to appeal to White Middle America — by turning their backs on progressive agendas Sanders and Warren and some of the newly-elected House representatives have championed. In Las Vegas this week Pete Buttigieg dropped the hammer on identity politics. This was a tip of the hat to MAGA America and a slap in the face to minorities. Polls show that Buttigieg has the support of 18% of South Carolina’s voters and 8% of the state’s Democratic voters. But among African-Americans that percent is a well-deserved zero.
Among millennials and young black voters Biden is doing relatively well in the polls for the moment. Unless the septuagenarian suffers a health crisis, he looks to become the next Anointed One. But young people are unreliable voters. And so are dispirited and disrespected voters. As Charles M. Blow pointed out in the New York Times, “there is part of the Biden enthusiasm, and to a lesser extent the energy around candidates like Bernie Sanders, that focuses too heavily on the fickle white, working-class swing voters and is not enough focused on the party’s faithful.”
For Blow the Anointing of Joe Biden is an insult to loyal black voters. “Democrats want to hold constant their support from women and minorities even as they chase the votes of people hostile to the interests of women and minorities. What does it say that the Democrats lust after disaffection rather than rewarding devotion? Democrats tell their base that this must be done, that the prodigal [white] children must be brought home, as if that is their only path to victory. It is not. That is a lie. And, it’s a lazy lie.”
Not only is it a lazy lie, it’s a crazy one as well. White swing voters, who in 2008 and 2012 voted for Obama and Biden and then flipped to Trump in 2016, just aren’t going back anytime soon. Not only are these voters unicorns; the fervent hope that Democrats can win them back is a delusion.
The other path to power, as Blow hinted, is Steve Phillips’ New American Majority, an idea he developed in his book Brown in the New White. The idea is neither new nor very difficult math. If you add up white progressives and progressives of color you’ve got a numerical majority that can beat Republicans — not in 2040, when whites will be a numerical minority, but right now. The gotcha, says Phillips, is that the Democratic Party needs to start offering better reasons for registered African-Americans voters to show up at the polls — like representation, support, and money. Anointing Biden, then, is just a prescription for another electoral loss.
So for the moment it looks like it’s going to be Biden in 2020, and if it is — then Democrats are going to lose. 2020 could have been about ideas and programs to truly make this country a better place. Instead, it seems to be contracting into a referendum on replacing one set of hair work and dental veneers with another.